Each and every moment across the world, somewhere the wheels of big industry are turning. In an age of unprecedented consumer demand, the planet groans as more and more resources are harvested in the name of profit, with only lip service (if that) paid towards the environment by those that need its bounty. In return, the byproducts of industry have led to countless environmental issues rising across the globe, from the decay of the ozone layer to even our schools becoming full of unclean air.
Whilst it is unfair to label each and every large corporation as having reached the status it has due to a complete disregard for the environment, it is without question that more needs to be done to get them working for the benefit of nature, as well as for their own financial ends. There’s a number of ways this can be achieved to bring more eco-friendly approaches to the forefront of the corporate agenda, so here’s a few things the average person should consider to make this a reality.
Make Your Money Talk
One way that we, as consumers, can make our voices heard on the issue of environmental action is by choosing to spend our money with those companies who are making the biggest efforts to combat climate change and reduce their carbon footprint. It might be naive to expect corporate giants to change their behaviour of their own free will, but a little leverage in terms of which companies we choose to buy from could make all the difference. One example that has been featured in the UK media recently is that just domestically, only 3 million out of 3 billion takeaway cups are recycled-just 0.1%. Pressure from consumers has however led to some chains starting to offer reusable cups, and to improve recycling facilities at their stores. It might be a small step, but it is at least a step in the right direction.
Coming at the issue of environmental responsibility from the opposite angle, certain UK companies have embraced the concept, and built their business on a model of sustainability and environmental concern. Lush, the cosmetics and soaps retailer, is the prime example of this, and the firm has built a solid reputation amongst consumers, particularly millennials, for environmental responsibility and ethical production. Other companies should look closely at the concerns and aspirations of the millennial generation too, and adapt their environmental approach accordingly.
End Our Reliance On Plastic
Plastic has become such an integral part of all our lives, that it seems unthinkable that we should strive to minimise its use. Yet the impact that plastic has on the environment, and on wildlife and marine animals especially, is both shocking and heart-breaking. It’s impossible to ignore the devastating images that we routinely see in the media of seabirds and marine mammals, like dolphins and seals, entangled in plastic rubbish, or with their stomachs filled with plastic items. Larger, visible pieces of plastic are hugely concerning, but there is another, perhaps more sinister danger lurking in our oceans, and that is microbeads, which are so small that they can easily pass into the marine food chain, and potentially into the human food chain too.
The current scale of plastic usage is simply not sustainable, and globally, we need to make dramatic changes to the volume of plastic we use and reuse. Bottled water is one example of the scale of the problem, with 176 billion bottles being thrown away each year, even though much of the world has no need for bottled water, as we have ready access to fresh water in our homes.
Of course, some plastic use is inevitable. Where we cannot reduce our plastic usage, we should be able to recycle as much of it as possible. Better recycling facilities are needed, along with much improved education for the public on what plastics can be recycled. The public has a key role to play in plastic recycling, and needs to make much more effort to recycle consistently and carefully. The ultimate goal, however, would be for much of the world’s plastic to be biodegradable, and to move towards 100% recycling rates.
Support Local Producers
Whilst many of us want to do more to reduce our own carbon footprint, we don’t often appreciate how buying locally could make a contribution to that goal. Yet, choosing to shop with local, small-scale producers can help in a number of ways.
Firstly, smaller producers are likely to use simpler methods of production, which don’t have high energy requirements and which don’t involve excessive packaging. Also, because the ‘food miles’ between producer and consumer are much lower, there are reductions to be made in transport-related emissions. Even a small drop in the volume of HGV traffic on our roads is something to aspire to, and would do wonders to reduce the global impact of transportation. We, as consumers, should again strive to influence greater change by spending wisely with local producers instead of powerful supermarkets and retail giants.
Supporting local producers goes much further than shopping at the independent stores on the high streets of the UK’s towns and cities. In less developed parts of the world, small-scale producers often struggle to compete against regions that have received international aid. By supporting sustainable small-scale production and business development in the developing world, we can help build a more sustainable future for the entire planet.
Gentle tactics like choosing to spend money with ethical companies are to be commended, but is there a place for taking tougher action on those companies that don’t face up to their environmental responsibilities, or who are reckless in their approach to pollution and sustainability? High profile campaigns aimed at making the general public aware of a company’s disregard for the environment may be the only recourse, on occasion.
It might seem like a David and Goliath task to take on a corporate giant, to try to persuade them to change their ways, but there are some high-profile success stories to draw encouragement from. Back in 2010, John Lewis was persuaded by a public campaign to change their sourcing of wool, to ensure that they no longer used wool that had been obtained by the unethical and inhumane practice of ‘mulesing’ of lambs. As a result of the campaign, John Lewis’s Australian supplier made a multi-million dollar investment to find an alternative, acceptable method of wool sourcing. All this was achieved through small-scale, grassroots activism.
It’s clear that by switching on to being an ethical consumer, we can have a significant and positive effect on corporate attitudes to sustainability and environmental responsibility. In the corporate world, money talks, so few businesses will ignore the warning signs that we, as consumers, can send them through our choices of where we shop. With effort and perseverance at the individual level, global change can be brought about, and we can all move forwards towards a more responsible and ethical world, where the environment is at the heart of all that we do.